From its opening date in 1990, the theme at Universal Studios Florida has been an exhortation for guests to “ride the movies.” That film-centric mission has since been expanded to include television shows, but the basic idea remains the same: This is the park where you go to see Hollywood come to life.
There are actual production facilities on-site (although they’re not open to the public), but the various areas of the park are all designed to resemble either soundstages, back lots, or movie scenes come to life. While it doesn’t quite capture the Hollywood action of its West Coast predecessor, there’s a much more consistent cinematic theming to this park than at Disney’s Hollywood Studios .
Universal’s annual Mardi Gras (Feb.–Apr., $45.95) celebration brings a weekly live concert to the park, usually featuring a cavalcade of ’70s and ’80s pop stars with a smattering of current hit-makers, as well as a bead-throwing New Orleans-style parade at the end of the evening. Purchase of a Mardi Gras ticket allows you entrance to the park after 5 p.m. and admission to some of the cover-charging clubs of Citywalk after the park closes.
In the fall, the Christian-music-themed Rock the Universe (Sept.) festival happens, often on the same day as Disney’s Night of Joy concerts. The musicians at Universal’s concerts are typically more the alternative and punk bent, while those at Disney’s are more pop-oriented.
In 1991, Universal Studios Florida opened the temporary Dungeon of Terror haunted house as a way to drum up nighttime business during a traditionally slow part of the year. That lone haunted house in the queue area for the Jaws ride has since expanded to become one of the premier Halloween-themed events in the country, with nearly 20 haunted houses and “scare zones” transforming one of the two parks into a terrifying themed adventure.
Costumed actors roam the fog-covered property, and visitors are never quite sure if that dark corner is hiding a blood-soaked character ready to chase them with a chainsaw. The houses and scare zones fully utilize the set-building and scene-setting prowess of Universal’s creative team, so don’t show up expecting the same sort of low-rent startles and screams you’re treated to at your local haunted house.
The nature of Halloween Horror Nights makes it a decidedly adult affair, and in addition to the shrieks and scares, a lot of folks show up for the festive atmosphere and the copiously available grown-up beverages. Although some parents bring younger children, it’s definitely not advised; even if the ax murderers and serial killers don’t give them nightmares, which they most certainly will, the occasionally inappropriate behavior of some park guests may leave their ears and eyes burning.
This event is incredibly popular, so the park gets very crowded very quickly. It’s best to check it out on a weekday evening, but even those crowds manage to be quite large.
Halloween Horror Nights runs early September–November 1 and requires a separate additional admission charge (in 2009 it was $69.99). No costumes or masks are allowed.
During the Christmas season, the big event at Universal Studios is the daily Macy’s Holiday Parade, but there are also Christmas-themed shows throughout the park.